Celebrating my birthday with family in Michigan is made more memorable with a couple of chili dogs knowns as Coneys.
Re-Post from August 2015 when I wrote this for One Big Table.
As I sit on my twin bed in the attic room of Molly’s old, brick house—affectionately called “The Orphanage”—I look over at the other five beds in the room. They belong to my fellow scholars: the (former) chicken cook, the pediatric occupational therapist, the actress, the CSA organizer, and the little baker bee. The beds will all be empty tomorrow, including those of the chef-professor, the magazine editor, and the student intern who sleep on a different floor. When our group leaves, the laughter, tears, frustration, and joyfulness of the past two weeks will get washed away with the sheets creating a blank slate for the next wave of artists looking for solitude.
As a child when you go away to camp you have many expectations and fears. You wonder if you’ll make friends and then you wonder if you’ll keep them. You hope to master arts and crafts in order bring those skills home to share with others (at least I did). You worry about critters and creepy-crawlies attacking and mostly, you worry if you have the ability to go weeks at a time holed up in a world that is not your own.
The LongHouse Scholars Program in Rensselaerville, New York, has proved to be an emotional upheaval I don’t think any one of us was ready to take on at full speed. It seems that we had each hit a crossroads and some hadn’t fully realized it yet. To be able to share food and memories, sacred family stories, and personal essays with a group of women I respect while genuinely caring about their background and feedback is rare and it has been an honor.
Over the last fourteen days we created recipes, foraged for mushrooms, visited a farm, learned photography and videography, and ignited a presence on social media. The act of enjoying three meals a day crowded around a wobbly, communal table is a surefire way to make or break a group. What we were really creating at “food writing camp” is synergy. Whether we are in New York or Iowa, Georgia or Louisiana, and however far flung our bodies get from one another in the future, we will be able to look back to our Rensselaerville respite and remember the calm.
When we leave in the morning we will be casting off our camp personas and strutting confidently back into our own little bubbles. I realize, and I may not be alone, that taking time to be holed up in a world that is not our own has been a lifesaver. We made some friends. We left the critters alone. Best of all, we get to take our art skills home to share with others to create fulfilling futures.
Re-post from August 2015 when I wrote this for One Big Table.
AN UNFUSSY TOWN
My apartment in Astoria is in a dark, cold, basement with a white tiled floor in need of some character. A place that doesn’t ever talk back, it simply exists as a space where all my stuff lives. There is little that I’ve placed on the walls—a Harvard mug in a square cube, a sketch of my face that a busker drew on the Subway that I purchased for two dollars, and the drawing of a brownstone in Brooklyn side-by-side with a San Franciscan Victorian showing my true, divided self.
During the drive upstate to the LongHouse Food Scholars Program in Rensselaerville, New York, I am nervous and excited. I don’t know what to expect from a large, country house full of women in an unfamiliar town. Within hours of arrival though, our small group feels completely at ease; the product of settling in to a place that’s already worn in.
The weathered, red screen door of Molly’s house bangs against its frame dozens of times a day with hurried footsteps of students and mentors, cooks and teachers, visitors and admirers. This door has seen better days but it sees all of the days, dark and light, heavy snow and bright sun. Paint peels off of it like the top layer of a stubborn sunburn that exposes the vulnerable, bare white skin underneath.
The town limits may be large but Main Street is small and the residents know the whitewashed brick house with the climbing ivy and its reputation as a sorted, summer camp for writers and cooks. The turn-of-the-century house groans with the aches of old age and the bright walls of each room blush with stories they wish to speak. Molly acknowledges her distaste for the house when no one is it in. The near-constant drumming of feet creates chaos in place of silence.
The walls swell with artifacts of trips taken and art that’s been snatched from any number of Midwestern towns, European shops, or South American villages to form diverse cliques that evoke a distinct feeling when you walk into the room. Built-in bookshelves scale the rest of the foundation holding an all-inclusive library that is ripe for reading and paramount to literary inspiration.
The house that keeps its front door swung open at all times is the looming, silent mother of us all; the ultimate hospitable host. Not without her flaws, she shows them to us without apology. The couch is formed from the familiar lumps and divots of past butts, the rug has coffee stains dripped throughout, and the planks of the dining room floor display a mess of knots.
Her staircases creak wildly when you add your weight, some more outspoken than others. Throughout the house the scholars tend to scatter and pair off like ants escaping the hill but at dinnertime we bound down the squeaking stairs with relaxed shoulders and tongues sharpened for conversation. The lure of an unfussy town where no one locks their doors borrows energy from the rustic landscape and beckons us to the table with bare feet and open minds.
After witnessing the intangible way Molly and her house create community out of a group of strangers, a pile of ingredients, and a few writing sessions, my lonely basement will never feel the same.